Irresistible Grace, Final
Now, we can enter our final post on this petal of the TULIP.
To recap, I have defined irresistible (or effectual) grace as the special favor of God, unnecessarily given by His own prerogative, that gives merciful, equitable relief so appealing to those towards whom it is exercised that they in turn want that favor.
My view of this doctrine has grown over the past few years. When I first learned of irresistible grace in college, I saw it in much the same way as most if not all opponents of Calvinism saw it. Irresistible grace meant that we have no choice but to submit to the call of God. Our free will is overridden and we are brought to Christ against our will. What an anathema! No, we must necessarily come to Christ of our own free will.
But now I am convinced that such an understanding of this doctrine is based on a faulty (if not false) understanding of irresistible. I’m going to use an illustration to show what the correct understanding of irresistible is in this doctrine.
How many of us have “held it” when we had to go to the bathroom? “I have got to pee, but I don’t want to go right now/can’t go right now/etc.” The call to relieve oneself (nature’s calling) is there, and it is an attractive proposition. But we can willingly resist it, for whatever reason. However, we cannot resist the need to relieve ourselves to the point that nature’s call is no longer able to induce us to make a potty trip. Sooner or later the desire to pee will become so powerful that we will hurry to the nearest bathroom before we wet our pants! We will submit to nature’s call willingly.
In the same way, God’s call upon the elect sinner can be resisted up to a point. But it cannot be resisted to the very end, to death. When God savingly calls a sinner, that call remains until the sinner cannot respond negatively without great personal and spiritual distress. The call intensifies until the sinner has no other desire but to relieve himself of God’s call by obeying it!
But the objectors to this doctrine do not understand this. They are generally caught up in the preservation of our free will. They do not realize that irresistible grace actually exalts the free will of man more so than a grace that can be effectively resisted. Why? Because the human will, in irresistible grace, freely chooses that which is most attractive to it. God has made His call so attractive to the sinner that the sinner, by the nature of free will, must positively respond.
You see, the human will is only free to the degree that it can choose what it desires most at a given moment. If a choice is arbitrary, there is no opportunity for the will to choose what it desires. Resistible grace involves an arbitrary choice – the sinner could choose for Christ OR the sinner could choose to reject Christ. It is entirely up to the will. No desire or inclination is necessarily involved. But there is a problem: Romans 3. The human will is dead set inclined against God. Therefore our will freely chooses to reject Christ, unless God makes the option of Christ so attractive to us that we prefer to accept Him.
As such, when God so makes Christ attractive to the sinner in this way, the sinner cannot resist. He will constantly be drawn to Christ until his attraction to Christ is so intense upon the soul that the sinner must finally submit or be destroyed. And because the sinner is attracted to Christ, the sinner submits willingly. And that willingness has nothing to do with the sinner – that willingness was put there by God alone as the effect of His call. Yet because the sinner freely chooses Christ, his free will is not overridden!
That, in a nutshell, is how I came to agree with the Calvinistic formulation of irresistible grace. Of course, I now – having studied this doctrine more deeply – understand how regeneration plays a role in this process of calling. But for a basic understanding of the Calvinistic formulation, I think my view should suffice for the novice. God makes Christ so attractive to the elect that they willingly choose Christ.
One more point that must be understood – because obviously not all come to Christ, but die without Him, it must be the case that this irresistible call is not given to all people. It must necessarily be given only to the elect. See the verses of John listed in Part 2 for reference. If all were elect, then all must also be given the irresistible call, and therefore all people would be saved. But this is blatantly untrue, as both Scripture and logic dictate.
And with that, I will conclude this point of the TULIP. We have seen that irresistible grace involves a call from God to sinners that is so attractive to them that they will at some point answer Him. We have seen that this call is not given to all people, but to the elect only. We have seen that while the elect can (and most certainly do) resist this call, they do not (and cannot) resist such an attractive call to the death. Instead they will willingly obey it.
I feel confident in stating that I hold to irresistible grace. It took me many years of misunderstanding and several months of study and discussion before I finally understood what it really meant. But truly understanding it, I can only fall flat on my face and cry, “Why, why, O Lord, did you call me? Me, of all the people you could have savingly called, why did you call me?”
To God be the glory, great things He hath done!